Intel to Focus On Mobile Chips, Make Wearable Computer Push: CEO

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-07-01

Intel to Focus On Mobile Chips, Make Wearable Computer Push: CEO

Intel's new leaders say the giant chip maker will have a sharp focus on the mobile device space going forward, and that wearable technology—like Google Glass—will also be of keen interest to them.

Intel, whose x86-based processors dominate the PC and server markets, has begun to make strides in the building chips for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. New CEO Brian Krzanich and President Renee James say they intend to push the company even harder in that direction, even if it means emphasizing their low-power Atom platform—aimed at mobile and embedded devices—at the expense of the more powerful and less energy-efficient Core processors for PCs and high-end tablets.

In an interview with Reuters, the two executives—who took over leadership at Intel when Paul Otellini retired in May—said they wanted to build on whatever momentum the company already has in the mobile device space.

"We see that Atom is now at the same importance, it's launching on the same leading-edge technology, sometimes even coming before Core," Krzanich told Reuters. "We are in the process of looking at all of our road maps and evaluating the timing of some of those products. It's fair to say there are things we would like to accelerate."

Intel, like many other established technology vendors, misread the impact smartphones and tablets would have on the computing industry. Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Microsoft and others have been hit hard by the slowdown in sales worldwide of PCs, as consumers and business users spend more of their money on tablets and smartphones. Systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) designed by ARM dominate the mobile device market, a space Intel has been courting for several years.

Intel has been driving down the power consumption of its processors, and later this year—with the new "Silvermont" microarchitecture—officials expect new Atom chips ("Bay Trail" for tablets, "Merrifield" for smartphones) to challenge ARM chips in performance and power efficiency. The chip maker got a boost in June when Samsung officials said one of its Galaxy Tab 3 tablets would be powered by an Atom SoC.

The numbers explain Intel's interest in mobile devices. According to Gartner analysts, global PC shipments will fall from more than 341.2 million in 2012 to less than 289.3 million next year. By contrast, tablet shipments will climb from 120.2 million in 2012 to more than 276 million in 2014, while smartphone shipments between 2012 and 2014 will grow from 2.2 billion to 2.5 billion.

"Consumers want anytime-anywhere computing that allows them to consume and create content with ease, but also share and access that content from a different portfolio of products," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, said in a statement. "Mobility is paramount in both mature and emerging markets."


Intel to Focus On Mobile Chips, Make Wearable Computer Push: CEO

The appointment of Krzanich, a 30-year Intel veteran with a strong manufacturing backround, worried some industry observers who thought the company missed a chance to get a much-needed change of direction. However, just after taking over, Krzanich announced that the Intel Architecture Group would report directly to him and that he was creating a business unit to focus on new devices.

Those new devices could include wearable computers. Krzanich told reporters that he is using the Google Glass headset and that he expected more wearable devices for eyes, ears and wrists to hit the market in the near future. He plans for Intel technology to power many of them.

"I think you'll start to see stuff with our silicon toward the end of the year and the beginning of next year," Krzanich said. "We're trying to get our silicon into some of them, create some ourselves, understand the usage and create an ecosystem."

In other areas, James said Intel will continue to build its foundry business of making chips for third parties, and Krzanich said that could include chips built on an architecture that competes with the x86 architecture Intel uses.

"If there was a great customer that we had a great relationship with laptops and other mobile devices, and they said, 'Look, we'd really love you to build our ARM-based product,' we'd consider it," he said. "It depends on how strategic they are."

They also were cautious about Intel's efforts in Internet TV, even as some company officials said the chip maker will be rolling out its offering later this year. Intel's plans call for creating Intel-based set-top boxes that would enable users to bring online content—including TV shows and live events—onto their televisions. The issue for Intel has been gaining the licenses to the content.

"We believe we have a great user interface and the compression-decompression technology is fantastic," Krzanich said. "But in the end, if we want to provide that service it comes down to content. We are not big content players."


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